By: Manju Chandran
PRIYA O’SHEA RECALLS HER TIME ON TV’S BAKE OFF
by PRIYA MULJI
HIT TV show The Great British Bake Off is so popular that just participating in it is like a win and one contestant who impressed on the most recent series was Priya O’Shea.
The Leicester-based mother of two and marketing consultant battled through a number of challenges to reach the sixth week of the show before being eliminated. The 34-year-old, who first experienced baking with an after-school club at primary school, has seen her profile sky-rocket since the show and is now looking forward to doing more in the baking space along with completing her first novel.
Eastern Eye caught up with Priya O’Shea to talk about her The Great British Bake Off journey, cooking tips and future plans.
What first connected you to baking?
I grew up in a family where we always shared food with friends, including packing our guests off with things or sending a plate round to the neighbours. And I loved that about baking. It’s so wonderful when someone brings a cake into work or you drop some freshly baked biscuits off to friends. It gives me a lot of pleasure, and I also love learning new skills. You can never be a master of all things baking, as there is always more to learn and I really enjoy that.
What drew you towards The Great British Bake Off show?
It’s a show I’ve watched for many years and loved. When my mother-in-law gifted me with a kitchenaid as a wedding present, I started baking a lot. I thought about applying for Bake Off in 2012, but decided against it. So it had been on my mind for years and something I always thought about. I finally applied for the show in 2018, but didn’t make it, but kept working on my baking with the goal of trying one more time. And to my delight, I made it.
What was the experience like?
It was a rollercoaster of highs, lows, triumphs and baking disasters. But it’s been such a privilege to be a part of, and I’ve made some incredible new friendships, which has by far been the best thing about it. It was stressful at times because you’re pushing yourself to do the best you can, but incredibly rewarding when a bake you’ve practised so many times is loved by the judges. It’s a really proud moment.
What was the most challenging aspect?
For even the most confident baker, some of the challenges test not just your baking skills, but also your ability to multitask, to be creative and manage multiple things under time pressure – while also talking to the camera, and wanting to run over to help your fellow baker when they’ve had an almighty disaster. There is a lot going on, which is of course a challenge but as soon as the challenge time is over, we were back outside throwing a lemon around like a ball or looking at ducklings and having a good laugh together in the most beautiful country setting.
Have your baking skills improved now?
My skills have improved massively. I had to bake so much during the practice, so things that I’d have found daunting in the past, I’d be doing several times a day until they were perfect. I wasn’t confident making mousses, bavarois, curds and jellies, but I’d do them in a flash now if I had to.
How competitive were you before going on the show and did that increase?
Bake Off is an unusual competition in that it doesn’t feel at all like a competition. We’re in a very unique experience together that we become such close friends in a very short amount of time. I’m quite competitive with myself in that I get really frustrated if something isn’t as good as I know I can make it. At home, if something isn’t perfect I’ve been known to make it again several times, until I’m completely satisfied.
What has the experience of being in the public and press eye been like?
It’s a strange thing when you see yourself trending on Twitter. Bake Off is such a hugely popular show so there is an incredible amount of social media commentary about it. People are incredibly supportive, and it’s wonderful to see those messages, or those from people saying they’ve been inspired by something you may have done or said – that really is special. I get stopped often by people who recognise me, and if I’m with another baker or two, we’re very quickly spotted. People are always so friendly and only have nice things to say.
What about any negativity?
We have all also had negative comments on social media, but I am pretty happy ignoring those. If they haven’t actually eaten my bakes, I can’t take their comments seriously.
What has been the most memorable moment from The Great British Bake Off journey?
There have been many such moments. The first time I met the other bakers when we arrived in London, it felt like things were finally starting. The first time we stepped into the tent was exciting.
What is the secret of great baking?
Well, it’s actually no secret at all, just practise. Things can always go wrong for the most experienced bakers. The most important thing is to understand why things went wrong, and you’ll only get that with practise.
Can you give us some cooking tips?
Get an oven thermometer. All ovens are different and some are more accurate than others. An oven thermometer makes sure you know exactly what temperature you’re baking at. Be mindful of your butter temperature – if it says softened, use softened. It does make a difference to the bake and the mixture. Finally, it sounds simple, but weigh properly. You can wing it with some recipes for certain ingredients but with others, the extra gram here or there will make a difference. I’ve baked for years, so I’ve got lots of different tips for baking different things, and it’s hard to pick a few generic ones, but oven temperature is everything.
Are there any key tips for beginners?
Start with something simple and nail it. You’ll learn so much from trial and error, and it’ll help build your confidence for more elaborate bakes.
What delicacies do you enjoy baking and cooking the most?
Bread and pastry are things I really enjoy. I enjoy savoury bakes more than I do sweet ones. That said, I do make loaf cakes more than anything else as they are so quick and easy, and perfect with tea.
Who are your own cooking heroes?
I have so many. I love Ottolenghi for his flavourful dishes and Meera Sodha’s recipes are exactly like my mother’s, but they are better explained (mothers do not do measures!). Felicity Cloake has a brilliant approach to recipes and is often my go-to when I am trying something new. I have more than 50 cookbooks, so actually for me, this list could go on and on. I should also add that my mother and many of my aunts are actually quite phenomenal cooks, and I am quite in awe of them sometimes too.
What are your future plans?
I am halfway through writing my novel so finishing that is certainly a priority, and I look forward to sharing that when it’s finished. Beyond that, we shall wait and see. I love all things food and baking so I’d love to keep sharing my passion for that.